I came across this video tonight and in five minutes, it somehow clarified the significance of my last two months of living in a new country thus far.
This post has a little bit to do with politics and a lot to do with indifference in the face of ambiguity.
Also, verbosity has always been a real strong suit of mine. Just a friendly FYI.
I expected to come to Hong Kong and have a few things fall in to place rather quickly:
1. A job. Obviously.
2. “Self actualization” in the form of living in an entirely new place and learning one, if not two, new languages. Plus all the other challenges of living in a country that is relatively foreign to me.
3. A career path (which to me is different than a job) that would define things for me for the next few years.
4. A husband.
I’m kidding about the last one. I really am. I’ve probably cursed myself and will find none of the above except a lover. Which actually MAYormaynotbeawesome……………………………………………….beep bloop bleep.
In all seriousness, at this point, it’s been roughly nine weeks since I started living here, give or take a trip home and family members visiting (which I don’t think count toward time living here). And I have not found any of the above (alright, save for a some pretty substantial moments of self-actualization). In fact, I’ve never, ever, ever, EVER, EVER been so confused in my entire existence. And I have even fewer friends than I did before so in the game of life, I am losing badly.
But it is hard to be a twenty something these days. It really is. Even my aunt, who is 80 and now retired, told me so when she came to visit. So it must be true because she is exceedingly wise. I make this point not just because I agree with her though. I truly believe that as my generation grows older, things only become more polarized. Our pursuits have become more difficult to define as we seek to figure ourselves out in the midst of so much freedom of expression — which, in of itself, is an entirely different topic that I’m not fully prepared to talk about right now. But I know there is a reason why I constantly long to be older and retired, like my cool aunt. It’s because I want everything to be laid out before me, to be neatly detailed and easy to follow. I’d really like an instruction manual on how to live the remaining sixty years of my life. It could even be as shoddy as an IKEA instruction manual at this point. That would be fine, even desirable at this point in time.
But it’s funny I want that considering this daring move I just made comes nowhere near a guidebook or instruction manual. When I truly consider what it would look like to live an exciting, single lady life, jet-setting around the world, carrying out my ambitious dreams of living in Hong Kong, it actually looks rather close to what I’ve been going through. But there is no way I would have known any of that back when I was sitting in my room in the Bay Area, booking my ticket. And looking back, there’s no feasible reason why I thought coming here would clarify anything.
But obviously in the midst of chaos and confusion, there is clarity.
I consider myself a mildly creative twentysomething with a strong interest in pursuing media. It’s absolutely the pinnacle of worst combinations for stability or providing parents with comforting thoughts of security and a life of domesticity for their (eldest!! scary!) daughter, but it’s the perfect storm for confusion and mini mid-life identity crises and good misadventures you hope you can tell your future kids when you find a partner who can provide the stability you’re not capable of creating for yourself.
When I first got here, I met a bunch of young Asian Canadians and Asian Americans who work for CNN as producers and writers. Two things happened: first, I thought I could get chummy with them and land a job. And second, I thought it was really plausible to get a job. At CNN. By merely knowing (actually merely meeting for ten to fifteen minutes) some people who work for Turner Broadcasting — a gigantic multinational company.
It never works that way, at least in my life. I will never forget the conversation I had with them after a panel on censorship in Hong Kong media. They asked me who I have worked for in the past (this was after expressing mild surprise that I had moved here without a job lined up or without an MA in journalism) obviously expecting me to throw out a few major networks. I told them I was working for a non-profit media organization based in SF (I remember one even laughed at the idea of an Asian American media non-profit, as if such a thing could exist), and skirted around the glaring detail that I have never worked for anything remotely “major”. They asked what type of writing I was interested in and after hearing them casually rattle off dates of historic wars, names of important political icons and prestigious universities from which they obtained their MA’s in journalism, I said rather weakly, “Oh you know, lifestyle writing. Like music, arts and culture. Film. Fashion. Really love.. shirts. And stuff.” So they immediately summed me up and told me the type of publication I should establish repertoire with. And the reactionary fireball in me resented that.
I realize they were just trying to help me by pointing me in the right direction but I don’t know anyone that likes to be boxed in. I love breaking news and in-depth stories. Soledad O’Brien is one of my idols. But I also love clothing. I find politics fascinating (I was at a panel on censorship, wasn’t I?!?). Yet I also feel very emotionally attached to the album releases of my favorite rappers.
What the hell am I suppose to do?
The Internet has made it seem possible for me to be a reporter for CNN, a Pitchfork music critic, a blogger for WWD and a casual foodie (honestly, never really cared much for food writing) all at once. I have valid interest in all of those things but I cannot possibly pursue all of them well. And herein lies not only my dilemma as a career path but my pursuit for the job I ultimately want to obtain.
In the days of my aunt’s adulthood, she was a social worker. She went into this job because it meant employment by the government (read: decent pay and job security) and it had some external good — it helped others. Who knows if she was a clothes horse or hip hop head or a Yelp Elite reviewer. She just needed a job that could provide some semblance of an income.
That objective, to some extent, no longer exists in this day and age. Today I met with a blogger my age who for the past three years, has maintained a blog on how to make your own clothing. She recently published a book with selections from her blog and is launching her website into a full fledged DIY portal. What that means exactly I’m not sure but I know two things: it will make her money and it wasn’t a job that existed 80 years ago.
So you see, being an author, blogger and fashionista are possible, thanks to the Internet.
I went away from my meeting with this blogger as I did from that meeting with those young CNN producers: utterly and deeply discouraged. I have always been worried that my lack of discipline in one of my interests would lead to a lack of focus in any of them — and now here we are. Focus is the whip I must unwillingly crack upon the back of discipline.
It’s true and it’s necessary. I might as well call it maturity. I’ve been confronted with it time and time again. The worst part is not knowing how to get there.
I don’t need anyone to tell me I have “some really great skills” or “they know I’ll eventually find something”. Even if I had a job, I would still be lost. The job would just be a distraction from the fact that I am uncertain about which of my interests to pursue.
Which is why this video was so meaningful.
Here you have our re-elected president of the United States, reminiscing about his work as a community organizer, not knowing at all what he was doing. If you have read his autobiography, you know what he means. He takes it a step further and relates to his audience — his canvassers, his campaigners, his speech writers, his marketing gurus, his social media consultants. And tells them they are far more talented and capable than he. This is the president of the US saying all of this.
When I found this video, I didn’t know it would impact me this much. I hit play and quickly after that, grabbed a pencil to jot down these words: “I had a vague inkling about making a difference but I didn’t know how.”
I found my eyes welling up because I loved so much that he said that. I loved even more that he didn’t know how. There is something deeper than charity or campaigning or strategy. It’s a humbling sense of altruism and of deep seated conviction to seek change (his original campaign slogan, if you recall). I appreciate that even though he had no idea how to mobilize people to change their drug and crime-ridden neighborhood, he did it anyway and would take what he could get to see change. He gets the struggle, he understands the meaning of “hustle” and he shows no ego about where he has gotten because of it.
I do spend a lot of time being worried that I don’t have a job. I have a cousin who is a year older than me, starting a doctoral program at Yale and a cousin almost a year younger than me, working at Apple having just left Pottery Barn (the former is happily married and the latter is happily engaged) (Please know I am exceedingly happy for both!). As a single, female 26-year old currently lacking a job, I have reason to be worried by my family’s standards and inherently, by mine as well. But I also get that not knowing is part of all of this. And what exactly is “this”? I think it’s merely not being indifferent to making a difference.
I face a lot of ambiguity and I know for certain many of my peers and closest friends do. Some are moving out of their chosen professions to better fill a role as a spouse and actually become employee of their spouse, no less. Others are trying to start their own business or ascertain their own career path.
The road for all of us in this wacky, GIF-ridden, unpredictable digital age is different and it is certainly unclear. But like my president, if we attach our lives to finding greater good for all and not being indifferent in attaining a greater good, even in the face of unknowable periods of ambiguity, then I believe in time we find what we were destined to do. Despite my worries and the dissatisfaction I seem to have with idle time, I will look back on this moment in my life and remember how it cleansed my vision and helped me to understand the larger picture.
And most of all, I’m glad I’m not indifferent — I’m quite the opposite, actually — and I know that despite my job title, in the sum of my 26 years, this is the one and only thing I have going for me.